In South Africa, a local herbal preparation will undergo safety and efficacy tests funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) in 2011. A R10-million (US$1.4-million) study will trial the herb Sutherlandia frutescens, also named Cancer bush, Gansies, or Unmwele in Zulu.
The herb is already widely available from commercial herbal suppliers, labelled ‘herbal supplement for cancer and HIV’, and labelled to contain Sutherlandia, Mathena and A. Arborecens.
Medical professionals have criticised Sutherlandia suppliers for a lack of scientific evidence to back up their claims, reports hc2d.co.uk.
Some HIV and AIDS patients have reported that Sutherlandia promotes appetite, weight gain, sleep, exercise tolerance, and a sense of well-being.
The herb has also been linked to improved CD4 blood cell counts and a lower viral load in people with HIV, with claims made that it slows HIV progression to AIDS.
Natural ingredients in Sutherlandia are believed to alleviate symptoms of various infections. Researchers at the University of the Western Cape, working at the South African Herbal Science and Medicine Institute (SAHSMI), is conducting a phase IIb trial in 2011.
First trial unpublished
They have already been carrying out scientific and clinical studies on the plant for seven years. A previous IIa trial, small scale and unpublished, showed a good level of tolerance for dried Sutherlandia leaf, and no side effects.
Lead researcher Doug Wilson says the research is likely to be finalised in late 2011. He warned that “far more work would be needed before Sutherlandia treatments for HIV patients would be available to consumers.”
Before drug development could start, the active ingredients of the plant would have to be isolated, he said. A formulation would have to be registered with the SA Medicines Control Council if the trial was successful.
Legislation and public service strikes had delayed the initial herbal trial, and “the research team continued to experience significant opposition to our work from mainstream research and pharmaceutical communities”, Wilson said.
He said the trial’s “critics appeared not to grasp the importance of building bridges between various knowledge systems in support of better public health”.
The SA Western Cape team also complains of limited funding and limited academic understanding.
The International Centre for Indigenous Phytotherapy Studies said the prevailing academic and pharmaceutical attitude had held back scientific investigation into traditional herbal medicine systems.
Traditional healers in South Africa use Sutherlandia to treat a range of symptoms.
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Zimbabwe AIDS herbal trial
HIV /AIDS care givers in Zimbabwe plan to revert to herbal medicine if funding for anti retro viral pharmaceuticals should be withdrawn.
Already in 2007, Zimbabwean AIDS care givers proposed a Southern Africa Herbal Aid Research Initiative (SAHARI), asking government for a farm to do herbal research with the help of traditional healers and Natpham.
A Zimbabwean HIV AIDS centre director, Freddie Kachote, said they are exploring alternatives to anti retro viral pharmaceuticals, against the possibility of donors withdrawing funding of ARVs.
Roadside vendors on the roads to Binga, Masvingo and Chinhoyi are involved in organised art sales to raise funds for buying ARVs.
Zimbabwe raises and AIDS levy from formal business operators, but collection is apparently sporadic and figures are ‘not transparent’, Kachote told Zimbabwe Herald.
WHO health info standard
The World Health Organisation, WHO, plans to classify traditional medicine as a paradigm for scientific testing of its benefits.
A WHO International Classification of Traditional Medicine (ICTM) project will also rule on use of terms relevant to analysis, diagnoses, therapies, interventions and treatment.
“We recognise that the use of traditional medicine is widespread. For many people in the Western Pacific, South East Asia, Africa and Latin America, traditional medicine is the primary source of health care,” said Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant DG of WHO Innovation, Information, Evidence and Research.
In the first world, particularly Europe and North America, use of herbal medicines, acupuncture, and other traditional medicine practices is increasing.
WHO ICTM will use an interactive website and invite users to document terms and concepts used in traditional medicine.
“Several countries have created national standards for classification of traditional medicine, but there is no international harmonisation of data for clinical, epidemiological and statistical use.
“There is a need for this information to allow clinicians, researchers and policy makers to monitor safety, efficacy, use, spending, and trends in health care,” said Dr Kieny.
Classification will initially focus on traditional medicine practices from China, Japan and the Republic of Korea that have evolved and spread worldwide.
SA herbal market
Several pahramaceutical suppliers had run trials on traditional remedies and set up experimental herbal nurseries.
One of many herbal trial gardens were at a seed farm near Lanseria Airport in the ‘Cradle of Life’ between Mogale City and Pretoria West. Traditional healers, however, prefer herbs from unspoilt areas.
Since unspoilt areas are becoming fewer, and further between, herbalists travel long distances to conservation areas like Tswaing Meteorite crater park, Voortrekker Monument park, Magaliesberg range, and Magaliesberg village area, reports SHEQafrica.com.
Some are registered and permited, as at Tswaing, others sneak into conservation areas to dig roots and bulbs for their own practice. Many sell their surplus to herbal makerts like Mai Mai bazaar in southern central Johannesburg, and herbal markets under road bridges in Johannesburg and Durban.
Traditional healing is regulated by law, but training, registration and enforcement is inconsistent. While traditional Chinese, Indian and other health care systems are well standardised, African traditional healing remains a wide ranging concept.